Minnesota-Based Nonprofit Launches RecoverStrong to Support Local Needs

There’s no question that helping people around the world is a worthy cause. Even with all of the advances humanity has made and the modern comforts many of us enjoy, there are still people who don’t have access to things as simple as safe drinking water. There are entire towns that lack schools, medical facilities, and more.

When handled correctly, external donations can help provide basic resources, construct buildings, create businesses, and more.

But even as we work to help people far away, it’s important that we don’t overlook the issues directly surrounding us. With everything that has happened in 2020 so far, local needs have become increasingly more visible. Countless residents of the Twin Cities have had their eyes opened to the ongoing struggles their own neighbors are facing on a daily basis.

A Minnesota nonprofit called Lift-Up has been working to leverage this growing awareness and help with on-going needs on both a local and global scale. Recently, they launched a new program called RecoverStrong designed to help families and small businesses impacted by the hardships of 2020.

I had the opportunity to talk to Lift Up’s founder, Shane O’Rourke, about the work his team has been doing both locally and abroad.

Bringing Healing to a Hurting World

Shane officially founded Lift Up in 2018, though its origins go much further back. Shane grew up going on mission trips around the world where he would see countless people who lacked basic necessities that he took for granted every day. He knew that there were people back home who had the resources to help, but there wasn’t always a straightforward way of doing so.

Those who did give money often had little idea of where it went, how it was disbursed, or who was impacted by it.

Seeing an opportunity, Shane gathered together a team and began mapping a system that would allow people to find and donate to specific projects. Lift Up officially launched in September of 2018, providing a simple way for people to not only give but to see the impact their giving has. Donors can also trust their money is being used appropriately. As an organization, Lift Up is funded through private donations and external partnerships, which means that 100% of project donations go directly to those in need.

Since launching, Lift Up has raised $387,000 for 35 projects around the world.

Despite early momentum, they faced a continuing challenge in their first year and a half of operations. Gathering funds for projects in impoverished areas outside of the US was largely successful. Getting support for local projects, however, felt impossible by comparison. Having grown up in the Twin Cities area, Shane knew there were plenty of needs in his own backyard.

But anytime Lift Up launched a local project, it quickly stalled.

“When a donor has the choice between buying an ice skate for one kid in the US or providing clean water for 10 kids for the rest of their lives,” Shane said, “they’re going to choose the water.”

That’s not to say the local projects weren’t important. They simply didn’t have the same urgency. That is, until this past March.

A Shift in Perspective

As COVID-19 quarantine measures went into effect, most people’s lives were dramatically altered. With schools being shut down, students were expected to continue their education from home. However, despite our digitally driven world, there are still families who don’t have a computer or internet connection in their home. Many of these same families found themselves out of work due to quarantine.

Lift Up decided to take another try at a local project, partnering with PCs for People to provide laptops for students in need. The project was a resounding success, quickly collecting enough funds to provide 75 laptops to 75 families.

But the local projects didn’t stop there. In the first months of quarantine, Lift Up was able to provide hospitals with face shields and acquire 1,000 masks for first responders. They began to raise money for community relief not only in Minneapolis but other hurting US cities as well. These projects were designed to provide food, medicine, gas cards, essential hygiene products, and more.

With the growing need and equally growing response, the Lift Up team started to devise a new initiative solely focused on local projects. The question was, when was the best time to launch it? That question was soon answered for them.

A Broken City

On May 25, George Floyd was killed on the pavement of Chicago Ave in Minneapolis, Minnesota as four policemen ignored his cries for help. The entire metro area was soon in an uproar as a recording of the incident went viral. People took to the streets, denouncing this horrible act of injustice. The growing masses were met with increasingly hostile police forces. Riots and looting broke out as rubber bullets and tear gas canisters were fired into crowds.

Businesses, stores, and restaurants were vandalized or burned down. Many establishments still standing had no choice but to board up their windows and close down operations as the threat continued to spread. Entire communities suddenly found themselves without the means to purchase basic necessities. Some were even forced out of their homes.

The need for local assistance had reached critical mass. Lift Up took this as a sign and officially launched their new initiative: RecoverStrong.

While still operating under Lift Up, RecoverStrong provided a direct way for people to find and support local projects relating to both the injustice of George Floyd’s death and the challenges resulting from COVID-19. This included provision for hygiene care, food distribution, beds, city restoration, and more. They also identified and helped families who had become homeless due to the present circumstances.

The outpouring of support was massive. RecoverStrong was able to help raise $20,000 in two weeks. They hosted a packing party outdoors where over 100 people showed up to put together 400 care packages containing essential hygiene products and more. But even as they were funding projects and helping serve their community, the RecoverStrong team noticed a lack of collaboration between the different organizations and non-profits with boots on the ground.

“It’s like everyone was running into the fire trying to help,” said Shane, “But they’re bumping into each other because there’s no unity.”

So, RecoverStrong hosted a Zoom call to connect organization leaders from across the metro in an effort to combine their forces. Immediately, different organizations began to see how they could complement each other. For example, one group had access to essential supplies but no place to store them. Another organization was able to step in and provide storage, and from there, other teams could assist with distributing.

Even now, these organizations are continuing to work with each other, as well as local corporations to provide continuing support to the Twin Cities.

Only the Beginning

A month after RecoverStrong’s launch, the Lift Up platform had seen a 400% increase in the number donors. Since then, however, support for local projects has slowed considerably. Meanwhile, the need for local aid remains as strong as ever. COVID-19 and the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder continue to impact Twin Cities residents.

Local projects are still active on the Lift Up website to provide immediate relief. But to truly heal the wounds in our community, long term care is needed as well.

Shane believes that local companies have a lot to offer in this area. The Lift Up team has connected with a number of leading businesses and organizations throughout the Twin Cities over the past few months. Currently, they are working on leveraging their platform’s functionality to create a turnkey solution for corporations to donate to local causes. This would allow businesses to easily fund projects of their own choosing while encouraging their employees to join in.

Despite the increased emphasis on local aid, Lift Up isn’t taking their attention away from global needs. While donations to worldwide projects did temporarily slow down as everyone scrambled to support the Twin Cities, they have since picked up again. Shane is hopeful that new donors who have given to RecoverStrong projects will become global donors as well.

After all, local needs don’t have to compete with global ones. With today’s technology and a little self-sacrifice, we can help lift up the needs of the entire world together.

You can view current RecoverStrong projects here. To learn more about Lift Up and see active global projects, click here.

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